identity

capturing her body in a static image, the dancer sees herself

identity is defined by the body and it’s relationships with it’s environment, but it can only be discovered by the person: only we can find the truth of our own personal existence, it cannot discovered externally by someone else.

[all the choreographer / composer / artist is doing is creating a framework in which the dancer can perform]

externally found and represented identities are intrinsically false (the glossy magazine covers are not real people or real expressions of identity) but they contribute to aspirations, ideals, repelling and regrets.
the dancer never sees their own dance, in the same way that the orchestra is blind to the ballet they are providing the soundtrack to. therefore the purpose of this work is to give the dancer an opportunity to see herself from an external viewpoint. the dancer becomes her own subject. internalise the external.

the dancer occupies a space on the stage, but she is not dancing. she holds a camera in her hand, taking a picture of herself. she takes many pictures. what is she trying to capture?

the ‘dance’ is the movement of the camera that the dancer holds, pointing inwards. the pictures are printed as they are taken and pinned up onto a board by the dancer, rearranged, discarded, re-taken over the period of the performance – the dancer recreates her identity in a series of static pictures combined into a composite image.

the camera is her third eye, so she can see herself.

if the dancer is still, the camera can move (as she moves her hand) and the image becomes blurred – so the image describes a relative movement, rather than the absolute movement of a dance.

the dancer can stand, jump, crouch, sit, curl into a ball, lie down.

she can place one hand flat on the floor and take a picture of it from above with the camera in other hand.
her hand can grasp, lie flat, extend or close. her hand can rest on / move over any part of her body. her hand can move between all these states without constraint. it is up to the dancer to decide.

it is about exploring the space of the body, the body is still free even though it is constrained in a small space, and the camera is constrained by the body holding it.

because she is holding the camera in one hand, the camera is never further away than an arms length. so the dancer cannot take a picture of her whole body at once – something is always hidden (at the very least the hand holding the camera!). so in order to build a complete picture of her body, many pictures will need to be taken and a composite / collage created.

[although the camera is always pointing inwards, she can hold the camera in the other hand, or set it on a timed exposure, and place the camera on the floor or hold it between her feet, or rest it on her knee? she can look up to the camera or look down on it. the camera, the dancer, are both part of the same space. the dancer is just looking at herself]

different collages could be created based on different schemes. the pictures could be arranged in the shape of a body, or they could be arranged in groups (e.g. hands, head, legs, torso), or they could be arranged in sequential order of when they were taken. they can be arranged in terms of a mood, a dream, a desire. they could be arranged randomly. it is for the dancer to decide how quickly they are taken and how many combinations are made.

the identity that we see in the composite (as people looking in from the outside) might be the real identity of the dancer or one imagined by the dancer. how can we tell where the truth becomes fiction? can she tell? is there really any difference, if the fiction is created by the dancer using her own body as the object?

which role will the dancer play, when she is trying to understand herself without dancing? will it be introspective and close, or shy and distant? (in either case, the audience has no way of knowing – the audience sees the dancer take pictures of herself, but they might as well be blindfolded! but when they see the pictures, there is no doubt that they are seeing a private expression of the dancer’s body space. it is just that they don’t know if this expression is unbounded or guarded)

we see her try to show the truth of her own body in images, she knows that we are watching (how will that affect her?). it is a very private exploration but it is also a performance. are the 2 things mutually exclusive? will she forget about the audience, or is she conscious that she is trying to explain herself to them? who is this all for, the dancer or the audience? perhaps it for each and it is for both, since the performance acts to build a relationship between the dancer and the people watching the dancer.

[is identity a sum of the parts or something outside of the parts (a soul)? identity is self-contained and impermanent; dependent-origination means that everything exists because it is part of a complex web of relationships with everything else.]

the degree to which the dancer treats this as a personal act and a public one is in itself an expression of her identity. her identity is recursive – part of identity is how it shows itself.

all performances are both private and public; the dancer practices her moves in private so that they can be made public, but the act of performance doesn’t destroy the private interpretation or joy / pain of practice. the dancer can always return to the private space. she can repeat the performance on her own, in her own time. sometimes there is something voyeuristic or erotic about watching someone create art with their own bodies and thoughts. the dancer wants to understand her own body, and wants to communicate this process. the passive act of watching a dancer can sometimes become a transformative act for the audience; perhaps the audience sometimes forgets about their own bodies, which have been replaced, for a brief time during the performance, by the dancers body.

[transformation = movement and change in space, time, substance, or representation. transformation is to bring about knowledge and understanding]

the dancer can wear whatever clothes & shoes she wants. it is up to the dancer to decide the degree to which her clothes are part of her identity. in many ways our bodies are defined by the clothes we wear; they can be so tight and close that they reshape our flesh or they are loose and so blur our real form (when dancers wear loose clothes, they are doing 2 dances at the same time – one is the movement of their body, the other the dance of inert material-made-alive). in both cases the real form of our body is transformed / re-presented by what we are wearing. even when we are naked, our body changes shape according to how we mould it, using our muscles or by pressing parts of our body against other parts. so a definitive representation of our own body is impossible. in this sense, our body-identity is similar to our psychological identity, in that it is defined by imperfections and approximations, and how we choose to show them or cover them up.

her clothes can form a space which is hidden from the audience – for example, wearing a coat and wrapping it around the camera so it is an enclosed space shielded from the lights, and then turn the camera flash on in order to take a picture of this wrapped space. or by using sheets of material / mesh to obscure the body from the camera’s lens (c.f. Bert Stern photos of Marilyn Monroe). the material can be transparent (e.g. glass/plastic), semi-transparent (e.g. gauze, silk), opaque (e.g. wood, paper, metal) or reflective (e.g. a mirror)
the dancer can leave the stage at any time to change clothes / get objects or furniture during the performance, or simply to reflect on the images taken up to that point.

the dancer has many identities – professional, relaxing, night-clubbing, sleeping… how do her clothes and the way she moves her body change? is there amongst all these perceived identities a common thread, a way of ‘carrying herself’? perhaps this fundamental component of her identity can be found in motionlessness – not dancing, though perhaps not standing still. photographs don’t care; they are still.

sometimes we borrow identities, we dress or act in ways that whilst they don’t conflict with our own personal identity, they are not our own. sometimes we do this because of convention or peer pressure, other times we do it simply to enjoy being / looking different from what we normally are. the dancer is free to explore the idea of multiple, temporary identities, to express her own personality.

although the camera lies often (perhaps all the time), there is nothing that the dancer can’t do that doesn’t reflect (in some small way) her own personal identity. in other words, we can fake it, but the way we fake it still uncovers truths about our identity. the only issue is in which lies we believe, and which ones we don’t.
standing / sitting / lying on the stage for a dancer is about internalising movement (like Tai-Chi). we are only truthful when we are not thinking, or moving, because language and movement is an expression / interpretation / translation. it is about capturing the potential for movement, rather than capturing the movement itself.

the dancer in this work is free to use her environment (objects on the stage, other people) as a cover for herself: she can hide behind things, include other objects in her pictures. she can hide her body with her own body (her hair covering her face, hand, turning her face away from the camera…) she can do whatever she wants, as long as she is still able to take pictures of herself holding the camera in one hand.

she can shout at the camera, talk to it’s dispassionate lens, or pretend it doesn’t exist. the camera is hers, part of her, because she is holding it.

the camera is on her side, it is not in the hands of someone trying to create a glamorised, idealised or fake image of her body. but even though the dancer is in control of the camera, she cannot see what it sees until after the photo has been taken. the audience can see the photo being taken, but even they do not know what the image is, until / unless the dancer shows it to them.

(the camera doesn’t really ’see’ – we lend it our sight so that we can take a photograph)

this work is also about artifacts and memories, since the result will be a collection of photographs. these images don’t simply document a performance, they are part of it. but they remain after the dancer leaves the stage – then the performance takes on a purely private aspect, in which the images can be reflected upon, manipulated, processed, re-invented, before perhaps being made public again.

[the board of images can be facing the audience, so that they see the collage being built, or it could be facing inwards, away from the audience, so that they only see the result at the end]

[the computer and printer can be on the stage with the dancer, so that she controls everything, or she can hand the camera off-stage for the photos to be printed and returned to her]

[the board of images could be off-stage, so that the dancer leaves the stage to arrange the images, so that when she is on stage, it is just her holding the camera]

[she might just leave the prints scattered around her on the floor, and at the end of the performance, collect them up and present them on the board. in which case the performance would be in 2 halves, the second half taking place off stage, as the dancer reflects upon the images she has just taken and experiments with how to display them; the ‘performance’ can be arranged as the dancer wants – it could be 10 minutes of taking photos on stage, followed by a period of reflection, iteratively continuing until the dancer is happy with the creation of her photographic identity.]

June 2008